Shiffrin leads 1st run of giant slalom by massive margin

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              United States' Mikaela Shiffrin competes during an alpine ski, women's World Cup giant slalom, in Kronplatz, Italy, Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Marco Trovati)
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SAN VIGILIO DI MAREBBE, Italy (AP) — Mikaela Shiffrin had this race specially marked on her calendar.

There are few courses the American skier has not been able to conquer in her record-breaking career. Yet a victory — or even a podium finish — had eluded her on the steep Erta slope at the Kronplatz resort.

So she came to San Vigilio over the Christmas holiday and did some free skiing on the Erta. The attention to detail paid off. She won the World Cup giant slalom here on Tuesday and banished poor memories.

“There’s not too many races where I had such a struggle as here. And when I come to a race like this I have to overcome that as well. It’s a little bit more doubt,” Shiffrin said. “Today I was thinking, ‘The course looks amazing and I have no idea how I can do but I know what I should do. So I’m going to try that and see.’ But that’s also a different kind of challenge, and when I can overcome that kind of challenge it’s also a really good learning experience.”

Shiffrin often does not celebrate her victories, but she raised her arms emphatically to rejoice over this one.

“When I came here I was thinking, ‘Well the last years didn’t go so well for me.’ I always struggled with this hill. But I was still excited to ski on it and to prove myself that I can ski it fast and make it to the finish.”

Having established a massive 1.39-second advantage in the opening leg, Shiffrin finished a comfortable 1.21 seconds ahead of Tessa Worley of France in perfect conditions to earn her 10th victory of the season.

Marta Bassino of Italy moved up from fourth after the first run to finish third, 1.57 back.

The overall World Cup leader and Olympic champion in giant slalom, Shiffrin is within striking distance of the all-time record of 14 wins in a single season set by Swiss great Vreni Schneider in 1988-89. Lindsey Vonn is second on the list with 12 wins in 2011-12.

It was the 53rd win of Shiffrin’s career, and first in San Vigilio.

Shiffrin was fifth here in 2017 and had an uncharacteristic fall in the first run last year, producing the unusual sight of her falling on a slope that features a 61 percent gradient — one of the steepest tests on the women’s circuit.

Then she went out and produced a first run that “was maybe my best run in GS in a race that I ever did.”

“But I even felt like, ‘OK, I can be more precise.’ So it was a good mindset to go in the second run. I wasn’t trying to protect the win, I was trying to ski another run like I did in the first and maybe in some terms better. Both runs the whole day were really perfect.”

Shiffrin claimed the lead in the GS standings, moving 10 points ahead of Worley and 45 points ahead of previous leader Federica Brignone of Italy, who finished sixth.

It was Worley’s third straight podium result following third-place finishes in GS races in Courchevel, France, and Semmering, Austria — having won the season-opening GS in Soelden, Austria, in October.

“I’m battling with the first places in every race,” Worley said. “A lot of girls are able to get on the podium.”

Bassino matched her third-place result on this course from two years ago, having finished fourth last year, and ended a podium drought in GS dating to the 2016-17 season.

“To finally do it here in Italy with this crowd is an amazing feeling,” Bassino said.

Petra Vlhova of Slovakia finished fourth and Viktoria Rebensburg, the German who won this race last year, came fifth.

In the overall standings, Shiffrin extended her lead over Vlhova to a whopping 496 points as she seeks a third straight title.

Nina O’Brien, Shiffrin’s teammate and a university student, finished 26th for her first career points in GS.

Up next on the women’s circuit are two downhills and a super-G in nearby Cortina d’Ampezzo from Friday to Sunday.

Shiffrin plans to skip the Cortina downhills but will race the super-G, while Lindsey Vonn will open her injury-delayed season in Cortina.